by Brittany Mauriss for CalFinder Solar

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How long until solar panels pay off? The naysayers would have you believe it takes decades for a shred of return on an investment like solar energy.

But when you consider that home solar power immediately reduces your energy bills or even eliminates them altogether, as well as conserves the planet’s natural resources, the answer is simple: the solar payoff begins now.

A more pragmatic answer is a bit trickier to explain. For an average-sized home, a system might cost $15,000 to $30,000 and take three to 10 years to recoup. However, various factors affect those numbers.

Exactly how much you can save using solar power partially depends on where your home is located – and how it’s situated. Panels on a southern-facing roof, for example, will operate more efficiently than those on a roof facing north.

Home Solar Panels

by OregonDOT via Flickr CC

But if the upfront costs still give you a mild panic attack, many companies allow you to lease rather than purchase a solar system. SunRun, for example, offers attractive solar leasing plans, some of which can reduce your upfront costs to zero.

Under a typical lease agreement, the solar provider purchases your system so you don’t have to, then either installs the system or arranges to have it installed. You then pay the provider for the electricity produced by the solar panels—at a lower rate than you would pay for conventional electricity.

For solar purchases, on the other hand, government incentives at the federal, state and local levels can be extremely generous depending on where you live. All 50 states qualify for the 30% tax credit off the cost of your system, which can also be combined with state and utility rebates in your area.

In Oakland, California, solar costs have been reduced by a whopping 60% for residents. What’s more, many solar providers facilitate the process of obtaining government credits, often deducting the expected credits from the purchase price.

The current 30-percent-off federal incentive program applies to solar systems on existing homes and new construction, and does not expire until the end of 2016. The Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) maintains an interactive map that homeowners can refer to for up-to-date information about all the incentives in their area.

For many homeowners, a solar panel power system will produce more electricity than the home can consume, and the solar customer is rewarded with the amazing experience of watching the electric meter spinning backwards. This excess power goes back into the conventional power grid, and the customer may be paid for the power the home generates.

Not sure whether to lease or purchase? Contact a solar installation company. Because there are so many factors involved in your home’s suitability for solar, no one can give you a better answer than a licensed installer.

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Brittany Mauriss is the editor & residential solar expert at CalFinder Solar. She also blogs for GreenMarketingTV, the green entrepreneur’s source for interviews with the industry’s top thinkers. To read more on Solar @ Building Moxie check out maybe >> Inside the Pros Home :: Installing a Solar Thermal Hot Water Set Up.

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Photo by OregonDOT via Flickr CC